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Social media provides an ideal place for the irate consumer to let off steam. But with brands increasingly monitoring social media channels, it can feel impossible to have a moan without someone annoyingly interrupting and appearing to offer help.

When is it right to offer help and what are the best ways to do it?

Pick your battles

Irrespective of what you do or say, some people simply want to be heard to be complaining. In some instances your direct intervention might just fuel the problem, when simply monitoring from a distance would have allowed the individual to get it out of their system and then quieten down.

In other instances there may be cause to treat the comments as a formal customer complaint or an indirect request for support. Determining the right course of action can be complex and requires that appropriately skilled staff are managing your companies social media interface. 

Customer support is not marketing

In some organisations social media is thought of as a single entity and often conveniently parked in marketing or communications. This can be problematic for inbound customer complaints or support requests and can lead to an inappropriate response to the end user.

If social media is to be adopted, it needs to be utilised across organisational functions. Methods need to be established to enable a dialogue to be transferred between departments so that people with the right skills respond to the demand. 

Social media is real time so manage expectations

Few customer complaint systems or customer service processes work in anything like real time. If support or attention is offered to the end user via social media there is likely to be an implicit expectation about the speed at which the dialogue will progress.

Setting customer expectations and providing timely updates are all basic tenants of good customer service and problem management. They become crucial when the inbound demand has originated via a social channel which by its very nature is associated with rapid communications. 

Use the right channel 

Simply because demand has originated via a social channel does not mean this is the best place to help the end user. The brevity of messages and the inconsistent shorthand used can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Transferring the discussion to a different channel, even if only email, can be very worthwhile. Especially useful in situations where detailed and accurate information is needed in order to resolve the problem.

Managing the seamless transfer of a discussion to a better platform is easy when volume is low, but in high volume situations (larger brands / organisations), how this transfer is achieved can be complex. Social media is a personal form of communication, when being used for support or service it is important to deliver personal accountability. 

Understand the customers nominal value

Assuming the end user was not simply hoping to let off steam, it is important to realise that they are probably not seeking a debate they just want their problem fixed or their grievance resolved quickly and efficiently. Understanding this and being able to deliver against it further re-enforces the need for social media to be implemented organisation wide and not to be limited to a Summer intern in the marketing department who happens to be a whiz with Facebook or loves Twitter. 

For many orgainsations there is an opportunity to deliver effective and differentiated service and support through social channels. However achieving this necessitates the integration of social media with other exiting business processes and the recognition that it is more than a marketing tool.

Ed Stivala

Published 1 April, 2010 by Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala is the founder of consulting firm n3w media and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or find n3w on Facebook

3 more posts from this author

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Consumer law

According to Kamcity.com, " Consumer spending has risen by .3%  in February, this year. This is the  fifth month it has done so, according to reports from the Commerce Department. The growth was especially good news, considering the snowstorms of the East Coast during the month

over 6 years ago

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Simon Preece

Ed,

Great post here. Having moved from a career in implementing large contact centres which struggled to integrate anything more than email and phone contact, i'm always interested in the conversation around how contact through social technologies is dealt with. 

For me the key point here is around the need for those managing the SM channels to have the ability to understand that this is absolutely cross departmental, and setting in place policy to facilitate ownership and resolution. Although this of course comes with its own challenge of meeting that timely response expectation that you mention.

It presents an interesting question around how the social media team (if one existed) sits in the organisational structure of the business.

Simon

over 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

Simon

Thanks for your feedback, much appreciated. 

I think you are spot-on in raising the question of where should a social media team sit within an organisational structure (if at all). 

Perhaps organisations need to start to think of social media more as a utility than a function. The social media team (if one were to exist at all) might be more akin to the telecoms team. Their role being to provide organisation wide access to the utility of social media and training in its use. You would then probably locate your social media group within Facilities (or maybe IT) and they would provide their service to Marketing and Comms. 

Quite different to how many organisations are currently structuring themselves and probably useful in changing the perception that social media is the exclusive domain of Marketing and Comms. 

Kind Regards

Ed

over 6 years ago

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Mark Evans

Customer service has emerged as one of the "killer apps" of social media, and it's one of the reasons why social media monitoring has become a compelling reason for many companies to embrace social media overall. One of the keys is making sure responses to customers are done in the right way, as opposed to simply being addressed right away. While real-time customer service is great, it's often better to take a measured approach as opposed to a fast one.

over 6 years ago

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James Sorensen

I couldn't agree more about your comment on social media being implemented organisation wide by not just having one staff member represent an entire companies social media strategy. A similar scenario occurred when the web first became popular, companies jumped on the bandwagon to get a website, but no one maintained it and kept it fresh.

over 6 years ago

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Richard McCann

What a perceptive point-of-view Ed, and interesting comments. I think James is clever to compare the current situation in corporates/social media with that stage when they had a website but then failed to understand the need to maintain it and keep it fresh. Of the many good points Ed raises I must seize upon one - 'Pick Your Battles' since he goes to the heart of something so widely misunderstood. The mutterer sitting alone in the corner of the bar or bus station is easily ignored. Give him a computer and he can suddenly 'but in' to the coversations of the great and the good with an equally 'loud voice'. In 'life' such an interjection would be ignored and he would skulk away. In social media there's a danger that he will be treated by a well-meaning corporation as a valid contributor. This will turn his smoke into fire and genuine customers will get their engagements burned.  

over 6 years ago

Rick Noel

Rick Noel, Digital Marketing Consultant at eBiz ROI, Inc.

I think a key takeaway is that social media monitoring is an important component of both marketing and cust svc and not just for large businesses. These activities extend beyond what most people envision when they think about traditional, contemporary social media and should include monitoring and responding to feedback and reviews provided on local search sites and business portals that enable users to provide feedback which is highly visible on local searches. Building online brand and credibility is hard work and can be negatively impacted if not monitored carefully.

over 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

@Rick Thanks for your comment and feedback. I agree with you that monitoring is important.

However I think we need to draw a distinction between monitoring for the purposes of reputation management (PR) and monitoring to spot times when a customer may need help (customer service). Might be the same technology but will mostly be different sorts of people required to interpret these comments and reviews.

Also worth stressing that simply because you see something you *could* respond to, does not mean that you should or even need to respond.

Understanding these differences and making smart choices through the right people is important. 

over 6 years ago

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Akash Sharma

Some good points here on the realm of social media, I think customer service is an altogether different function of a company and has to be done by people withe great human skills and the ones who know how to be quick in harnessing these social tools.The best part of social media is that you get the messages in the most original form and you can reply back in the same manner as well.

over 6 years ago

Guy Stephens

Guy Stephens, Social Customer Care Consultant at IBM Interactive Experience/GBS/MobileEnterprise

Hi Ed, great post with lots of insight. In defence of the monolithic corporations out there, let's firstly congratulate and encourage those who are willing to participate in the use of social media as a customer service tool. They may not always get it right, but then they are creating the blueprint 'on the fly'.

Companies will tend to lag behind the way in which people/customers use technology, particularly something like social media, which is creating a very fluid, very disjointed and fragmented landscape. It is also creating some of the most powerful tools of expression that the individual has ever had, at little or no extra cost. It is easy for us to write blogs or tweets about what companies should or shouldn't do, based on our own experiences. I've been on both sides. I recently left Carphone Warehouse where I helped set up their use of social media within customer service. In the 'early days' I was one of those who responded to every tweet that mentioned Carphone Warehouse. Could I distinguish which tweet was simply someone letting off steam and which was a potential ticking timebomb? Absolutely not. And I defy anyone to come up with a way to do this based on 140 characters. I did over time start to get a gut feel for likely timewasters and those letting off steam, but I couldn't put a definitive checklist together. Furthermore, over time I came to understand where Twitter worked well and where it didn't within the customer service framework.

What also became evident to me was how much of this is based on personal experience and expectation. I'm currently looking to upgrade my mobile phone and I tweeted that I was looking around. One of the networks tweeted me about it, and within a short space of time we exchanged a number of tweets. Based on this my expectation was that they would tweet me back within 20-30 minutes. However, when this began to extend to 1-2 hours between responses, my initial expectation had to be re-adjusted, and I ended up feeling somewhat disappointed. But it also showed me that there is a constant tension between a customer's expectation and a company's SLA. 

We expect a lot of the companies we deal with, and social media has simply heightened this expectation. We expect an immediacy of response, but perhaps all we really want is to be kept informed by companies. At the end of the day social media is simply another communication channel, and in spite of all the great insight presented by articles such as yours, it's difficult for companies to change their spots. And so we will for the most part continue to be disappointed, as companies strive to reach our ever changing requirements.

I'm not advocating that we should shrug our shoulders, because we must continue to provoke and cajole companies to strive for something better - because that is possible. But sometimes we need to be a little more realistic, a little more understanding, and a little less critical. So let's celebrate those companies who are using social media well, let those who get it wrong know but encourage them to continue and show them how it might have been done, and nudge those who aren't using it yet. ...I'll stop rambling now!

over 6 years ago

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Elaine @ O2 ideas room

Good post Ed, bottom line is that companies need to understand the areas they are in and what they can and cannot do before they try and get involved. This comes down to the point you raised about why it’s important to have the right staff that can manage the social media campaigns properly and efficiently; those that know when to get involved and when to leave the situation be. It’s not just businesses involved with social media that need to understand this, Paul Davis has been contributing to the O2 Ideas Room blog about marketing (in this instance, referring to an offline example of front line employees) and how consumers can learn so much about a business simply by their experience with a particular business. I think your readers will enjoy the read. http://webkit.o2online.ie/ideasroom/2010/04/marketing-with-a-simple-look-in-the-eye/ Thanks again, Elaine @ O2 ideas room

about 6 years ago

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KPO Services

Social media channels are clearly an important access point to customer care for many people and organizations. A lot of businesses these days forget that when it comes to customer service, it's human interaction that wins.  People need more than just a 140-character tweet to feel assured that their problems are being solved.  So, a smart mix of both traditional media and social media is the best recipe here.  Besides, if you're cutting down on the cost of hiring customer service rep who'll talk over the phone, you can always get yourself a live chat assistance.

almost 6 years ago

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Call Center Outsource

I've heard of several companies using Twitter to offer amazing customer service like this. They understand the importance of social media and what it can do for them and more importantly, what they can do for their customers. You will definitely receive greater benefits by paying attention to what's being said about your company and conversing in a genuine manner.

over 5 years ago

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Call Center in Philippines

Social media has come along and shaken up everything we know about customer service. It has, in effect, turned it completely on its head. The benefits of social media as a customer service channel are more and more apparent and steadily becoming a necessity for businesses rather than a ‘nice to have’. The fact is that businesses will always have to go where their customers are and right now, these customers are turning to social media.

over 5 years ago

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